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U.S. Defense Department disputes some of congressional auditors' negative conclusions about Iraq's progress

U.S. Defense Department disputes some of congressional auditors' negative conclusions about Iraq's progress

Stung by the bleak findings of a congressional audit of progress in Iraq, the U.S. Defense Department has asked that some of the negative assessments be revised.
Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said Thursday that after reviewing a draft of the Government Accountability Office report _ which has not yet been made public _ policy officials "made some factual corrections" and "offered some suggestions on a few of the actual grades" assigned by the GAO.
The Associated Press has learned that the GAO report was on track to conclude that at least 13 of the 18 benchmarks set to judge the Iraqi government's performance in the political and security arenas haven't been met.
"We have provided the GAO with information which we believe will lead them to conclude that a few of the benchmark grades should be upgraded from `not met' to `met,'" Morrell said. He declined to elaborate or to spell out which of the benchmark grades the Pentagon was disputing.
The GAO report comes at a pivotal time in the Iraq debate. So far, Republicans have mostly stood by President George W. Bush on the war and staved off Democratic demands of troop withdrawals. But in exchange for their support, many Republican members said they wanted to see substantial progress in Iraq by September or else they would call for a new strategy, including possibly a withdrawal of troops.
Democrats are expected later this year to push for another round of votes on their legislation ordering most troops out by early 2008. A likely target for the debate will be a $147 billion (euro108 billion) bill the military needs to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The money covers the 2007 budget year, which begins Oct. 1.
In preparation for an expected decision next month on whether to prolong the U.S. troop buildup in Iraq, Bush planned to visit the Pentagon on Friday to hear the views of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the top military officers in the four armed services, a spokesman said.
Maj. Gen. Richard Sherlock, director of operational planning for the Joint Chiefs, told reporters that this would be the Joint Chiefs' opportunity to "provide the president with their unvarnished recommendations and their assessment of current operations" -- in particular, the situation in Iraq.
At the White House, officials argued that the GAO report, which was required by legislation Bush signed last spring, was unrealistic because it assigned "pass or fail" grades to each benchmark, rather than assessing whether the Iraqis have made progress toward reaching the benchmark goals.
"A bar was set so high, that it was almost not to be able to be met," White House deputy press secretary Dana Perino said. "On the other hand, one of the things it does not take into account, which is not on the benchmark list, is the cooperation of the Sunni tribes, who have decided to fight back against al-Qaida."
The administration said it agreed that Iraq had not reached the objectives.
"I think we have said they have not met the benchmarks," Perino said. "I don't see how it would be news for them to come out today and say they have not met benchmarks. We have said that."
By Sept. 15 Bush is to give a detailed accounting of the situation in Iraq.
The GAO gave lawmakers' staffers a classified briefing about its findings on Thursday. An unclassified version of the report is due to be released on Tuesday. It is one of several assessments called for in May legislation that funded the war, which relies on the deployment of some 160,000 troops.
Among those is Bush's own report card, due Sept. 15. In advance of that report, Bush will hear from the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Defense Secretary Robert Gates; the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus; and the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker.
The leader of the House of Representatives, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, on Thursday suggested Bush should not be asking Congress to approve "tens of billions more dollars" when independent voices like GAO find the Iraqis are failing to make progress.
"With the president continuing to stay the course in Iraq, Republicans will have to decide whether they will continue to vote with him or join Democrats and the vast majority of Americans who are demanding a new direction in Iraq and refocusing America's efforts on fighting the real threats of terrorism around the world," she said.
The GAO, the congressional watchdog, is expected to find that the Iraqis have met only modest security goals for Baghdad and none of the major political aims such as passage of an oil law.
The White House declined to comment on the specific findings of the GAO report, which one official said would put the Iraqi government's success rate at about 20 percent.
"While we've seen progress in some areas, it would not surprise me that the GAO would make this assessment given the difficult congressionally mandated measurement they had to follow," said Gordon Johndroe, spokesman for the National Security Council.
An internal White House memorandum, prepared to respond to the GAO findings, says the report will claim the Iraqis have failed on at least 13 benchmarks. It also says the criteria lawmakers set for the report allow no room to report progress, only absolute success or failure.
The memo argues that the GAO will not present a "true picture" of the situation in Iraq because the standards were "designed to lock in failure," according to portions of the document read to the AP by an official who has seen it.
Bush is meeting Friday with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the top uniformed officers in the U.S. military, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates in a secure conference room at the Pentagon known as "the Tank."
Maj. Gen. Richard Sherlock, director of operational planning for the Joint Chiefs, told reporters that this would be the Joint Chiefs' opportunity to "provide the president with their unvarnished recommendations and their assessments of current operations": in particular, the situation in Iraq.
It did not appear that the session was intended to work out a consensus military view on how long Bush should maintain the U.S. troop buildup in Iraq or how soon to transition to Iraqi control of security.
Morrell said Wednesday that Gates wanted to ensure that all senior military leaders had an opportunity to express their individual views on Iraq to the president, without feeling the need to present a consensus view.
Bush will be hearing advice from Gen. Peter Pace, outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs; Adm. William Fallon, senior commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East; and the top commanders in Baghdad.
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Associated Press writers Anne Flaherty, Terence Hunt and Deb Riechmann contributed to this report.


Updated : 2021-04-18 02:44 GMT+08:00